La Vie de Cocagne

Bonnebosq, Normandy, France Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
A gorgeous romantic 18th-century gite for slow living and self-catering, surrounded by meadows, bucolic countryside and cideries (sleeps 4-6)
This cute-as-a-button half-timbered building was once a stable block - fittingly, since the fields around are filled with horses - before French owners Thierry and Caroline spent a year carefully renovating it into a spectacular barn-style home. It now has 3 bedrooms (2 ensuite doubles for grown-ups and an upstairs twin for kids), and is perfect for couples, a small group of friends or a family for enjoying simple pleasures in rural Normandy.

Style-wise, the barn is beautifully decorated with atmospheric Farrow & Ball colours and slate tiles, filled with gadgets like a Bose iPod dock and large flatscreen TV, and gilded with unique touches like a glittering chandelier and stuffed antelope head in the double-height living room. It's a total one-off, and looks fabulous. Glass windows and doors face the sunrise and sunset for maximum light. We had a wonderful time lazing in the hot tub as the light began to seep from the sky, then rustling up gourmet delights in the sleek kitchen before chilling out by the wood-burning stove. With three bedrooms, the house works for couples, a family, friends. The name comes from a Jeanne Moreau song, in which she dreams of leaving Paris for a fantasy country house where the art of living is high on the menu. That country house is imaginary no more.

Highs

  • A peaceful, rural setting for stylish relaxation, but within easy reach of Bonnebosq (a small town, part of the famous cider route); a short drive from Deauville, Honfleur and Normandy's beaches, and an hour from Le Havre
  • We loved the chic blend of styles: antique tables, vintage chairs, French country linens, religious artefacts, and wonderful wooden beams
  • Beautifully kitted out for a rental property - bathrobes, toiletries, a Nespresso coffee machine, and stylish slate bathrooms
  • Utterly romantic and private: a hot tub, champagne for honeymooners, a choice of master bedrooms
  • Well set up for foodies: a lovely well-equipped kitchen and plenty of regional restaurants in Bonnebosq, plus Michelin-starred eateries in Honfleur (30 minutes' drive)

Lows

  • Fairly isolated - you'll need a car to get here, and during your stay
  • The gite is set within the owner's property, but they are at a discreet distance and you still have lots of private space (gardens and terraces)
  • The owners, understandably, keep a close eye on damages and the state of cleanliness on departure
  • No pool, though there is a hot tub
  • The owners keep donkeys, horses and dogs; this isn't a good place for people who are afraid of animals

Best time to go

Normandy is a year-round destination. The summer months are particularly good as you'll find plenty of village festivals, fairs and horse racing events nearby (although it the touristy hotspots can get very crowded such as Honfleur); in the early autumn foodies will find fresh local scallops, the apple harvest ongoing and trees full of colour. It's relatively quiet here in the winter months, when you can relax with a roaring fire with views of snowy fields.

Our top tips

Normandy food is famously rich. If you want to do the local thing, try a 'Trou Normand' - a shot of Calvados taken with apple ice cream to clear the palate between courses. Other local appley delights include pear liqueur, pear and apple ciders and Benedictine, taken post-meal as a digestif.

Thierry and Caroline are Normandy born and raised and are a fount of knowledge about the area and local activities.

Great for...

Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique House Rental
  • 3 (sleeping 4-6)
  • Self-catering
  • All ages welcome (best for older kids)
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Laundry Service
  • Weekly maid service
  • Board games
Room:

Rooms

We loved La Vie de Cocagne, and thought it would suit everybody from a couple, a multi-generational family, to a group of 4-6 friends. On the ground floor are two double bedrooms, both ensuite with slate shower rooms, and decorated with equal flair so no-one need feel they've got the short straw. The queen size chocolate room opens onto the garden, while the Nun's room, where we stayed, has a vintage mirror above the bed. Organic toiletries of soap and shampoo are provided, as are plenty of blankets, bathrobes, slippers, big soft towels and bottles of water bedside.

Up steep stairs, the twin guest room has lovely exposed beams, oil portraits on the wall, and bright Union Flag cushions. This would be the best room for a child or two and has its own toilet. There are no extra beds, but there is a baby cot on request.

Downstairs, there's a large living room with a high ceiling, a lovely place to lounge in front of the wood-burning stove on either of the chocolate-brown sofas or the upholstered armchair. There's a DVD player and extensive library of books and DVDs plus satellite TV, and a Bose system to plug in your iPod or iPhone. Glass jars filled with pine cones, large pillar candles, stuffed antelope heads on the wall and a shimmering chandelier add an extra dash of style.

Features include:

  • Barbeque
  • Bathrobes
  • Cd player
  • Central heating
  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Dishwasher
  • Dvd player
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hairdryer
  • Hob stove
  • Ipod dock
  • Iron
  • Microwave
  • Oven
  • Radio
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Toaster
  • Toiletries
  • Washing machine
  • WiFi
  • Wood-burning stove

Eating

Food is at the heart of this gite - specifically food that you can prepare together, then sit and enjoy at a relaxed pace. The small slate kitchen leads on to the dining area, where there's a table and 6 chairs, plus you get an outdoor table and chairs on the terrace outside.

You'll find Thierry and Caroline have placed breakfast items in the fridge for your arrival. Expect eggs, yoghurt, butter from the farm, bread, orange juice, local jam, milk and white wine - this may vary seasonally. i-escape guests also get cider and local cheese. Cupboards are stocked with seasoning and spices, olive oil, mustard, flour, coffee, and cleaning products. Caroline will often provide a little extra something if cooking - for us delectable chocolate mousse.

The fully equipped kitchen is a modern design dream, with slate worktops, shiny steel appliances and beautiful classic crockery and glassware. In summer you can barbecue on the terrace; and, with notice, arrange for additional groceries to be supplied.

For your next meals, pop in to Bonnebosq's lovely food market. The town has a butcher, baker, a good regional restaurant (you'll need to book L'Auberge des Deux Tonneaux) and is on the cider route - so you'll find plenty of apple-based tipples. On Mondays, when Bonnebosq's shops close, you can stock up in Pont l'Eveque. Regional specialties include Camembert, Pont L'Eveque and Livarot cheeses, mussels, oysters and scallops. Don't forget to buy some Calvados for digestifs.

There are plenty of other good restaurants in the countryside - the folder in the living room will have suggestions, as will Thierry and Caroline. If you want a real treat, head to Honfleur, where among a plethora of eateries are two Michelin-starred restaurants (Sa Qua Na receives rave reviews).

Features include:

  • Children meals
  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee tea making
  • First breakfast provided
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hob stove
  • Microwave
  • Oven
  • Shopping service
  • Toaster
  • Welcome hamper
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Take long walks in the surrounding countryside, or further afield along sandy beaches (15 minutes' drive)

  • Relax at the house: sit in the hot tub, feed the horses and donkeys, sunbathe on the terrace and enjoy the peace and quiet. In the autumn and winter, light a wood-fire and watch DVDs or read books; stargaze at night

  • Go horse riding (the owners can arrange) or, in July and August, head to Deauville for horse racing; there are 4 golf courses between here and Deauville

  • Tour orchards and drink Calvados in pretty villages - this area of Normandy has its own cider route

  • Visit local antiques markets. Beuvron en Auge has an antiques fair in July and regular market on the second Sunday of the month

  • Head to the coast for the famous D-Day beaches. Honfleur, Trouville and Deauville are under half an hour's drive away

  • Walk around the beautiful gardens and manor houses of the area. The castles of Crevecoeur, Canon and Jonquets are particularly special

  • Bayeux and Caen are also 45 minutes away by car

  • Guests have been known to go to Paris for the day on the train

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Calvados Tasting
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Shopping / markets
  • Stargazing
  • Swimming
  • Wine tasting

Kids

We think this is a great place for a family with well-behaved older kids or for babies (although there is no high chair or bath tub on the premises), grandparents could easily take one of the two Master bedrooms for example. The focus of the place is on being outdoors, eating well, walking in the fields, going to the beach and living life at a slower pace.

It's not so good, however, for excitable children who want thrills, spills and endless attractions, and not recommended for older toddlers as there would be too many breakables - the crockery is on open shelves in the living room for example.

Best for:

Babies (0-1 years), Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

There are 2 main ensuite bedrooms downstairs and a twin guest room upstairs which is best for teens as the stairs are steep. There is a cot available for babies. Both bathrooms are shower only, though; not ideal with tiny ones.

Babysitting:

Babysitting can be arranged; ask in advance. Perfect if you want to go to one of Honfleur's world-class restaurants

Baby listening:

A baby monitor will work throughout the house, you will need to bring your own

Baby equipment:

  • Baby cot

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

The kitchen is fully equipped with dishwasher, microwave and hand-held blender, and you can request ingredients to be delivered prior to your arrival. You can buy everything you need in the nearby town of Bonnebosq. Note you would have to bring your own plastic cutlery and crockery.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Fields and lawns to play on
  • DVD player and library
  • Satellite TV with plenty of English and European channels
  • Donkeys and horses nearby

Kids Activities nearby:

  • The beaches at Trouville, Deauville and Honfleur

  • Swimming pools at Deauville and Lisieux
  • Naturospace in Honfleur, tropical gardens and butterfly centre

Families Should Know:

Children under 12 are not allowed in the Jacuzzi. Parents will need to watch children when the cover of the hot-tub is removed. A stylish place such as this comes with its fair share of breakables so it isn't suitable for excitable smaller ones plus there are quite steep stairs going up to the guest room

Distances:

  • Ferry port: 1 hour
  • Airport: 20 minutes
  • Doctor: 12 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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